Best of U.S. women's players, best of friends WIMBLEDON


WIMBLEDON, England -- Mary Joe Fernandez, once regarded as the best American women's tennis player, has given way to Lindsay Davenport.

That bond has cemented their friendship. But now, they'll have to play a round-of-16 match at Wimbledon that each wished to avoid -- against each other.

"Yeah, I know, I've got Lindsay next," Fernandez said yesterday after walking off the court, a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Miriam Oremans. "It's actually nice because at least one of us will get to the quarterfinals. Hey, if you're going to lose, at least lose to a good friend."

"We're like sisters," said Davenport, Wimbledon's No. 7 seed and a 6-7 (8-10), 6-3, 6-2 winner yesterday over Christina Singer. "It's going to be strange."

Fernandez and Davenport understand the pressures of life on the tour and life as America's No. 1 women's player.

"You're always asked when more Americans are going to come up," Fernandez said. "It was an honor for me to be the top American."

Davenport, 6 feet 2, is truly a big target. But she has appeared to accept her role at the top of the women's game in America.

"Lindsay shouldn't have to defend herself against anyone," Fernandez said. "She is the No. 7 player in the world."

Davenport got to that spot with power and persistence.

"I'm not completely helpless out there," she said. "I have a little feel out there. I can anticipate shots. My problem is the first couple of steps. But once I get going, I'm fine."

So what will she do against Fernandez tomorrow?

"Probably hit a shot I never have before," Davenport said.

And how will Fernandez counter Davenport's power?

"I'll try to move her from side to side," she said. "But I'll have to be aggressive."

The other big names of the women's tour cruised through their matches yesterday, led by No. 1 Steffi Graf, who beat Kristie Boogert, 6-1, 6-0. No. 4 Jana Novotna and No. 6 Kimiko Date also won. But No. 10 Natalia Zvereva was upset by Inas Gorrochategui, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

No. 1 men's seed Andre Agassi was almost reduced to a footnote. The Center Court crowd did the wave as he hit the grass stage and almost did a double take when he lost a set to David Wheaton. But Agassi emerged with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 triumph.

"When you play a guy from the younger days, you have to remind yourself that you're a professional at Wimbledon," said Agassi, who clashed regularly with Wheaton on the junior circuit.

"You know, sometimes in these matches the plot thickens."

The news conferences are getting pretty strange around here, too. Someone asked Agassi to recall his first kiss. Agassi said: "You see, you guys just throw the bait out, don't you. You throw it out and you hope I bite, huh?"

The questioner apologized: "I'm just a messenger. I'm sorry."

Agassi smiled and said: "No. You know what, let me check with Brooke [Shields] first to make sure it's OK to talk about that."

Agassi will meet Alexander Mronz, who beat Jeff Tarango by default.

Dick Norman, who has already beaten former champions Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg, next draws Boris Becker. Norman ousted Todd Woodbridge, a former Wimbledon doubles champ, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Third-seeded Becker defeated Jan Siemerink, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Jacco Eltingh ended the sentimental swing of Mats Wilander, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). Eltingh next faces No. 7 Wayne Ferreira, a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 winner over

Mark Woodforde.

Cedric Pioline and Petr Korda complete the draw for the final 16. Pioline defeated Patrick Baur, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. Korda downed Brett Steven, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1.


Centre Court

Andre Agassi (1), Las Vegas, vs. Alexander Mronz, Germany. Anke Huber (9), Germany, vs. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain. Greg Rusedski, Britain, vs. Pete Sampras (2), Tampa, Fla.

Court 1

Jacco Eltingh, Netherlands, vs. Wayne Ferreira (7), South Africa. Steffi Graf (1), Germany, vs. Ines Gorrochategui, Argentina. Todd Martin (14), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., vs. Goran Ivanisevic (4), Croatia.

Other seeded players

Court 2

Mary Joe Fernandez (13), Key Biscayne, Fla., vs. Lindsay Davenport (7), Murrieta, Calif. Petra Kamstra, Netherlands, vs. Conchita Martinez (3), Spain. Boris Becker (3), Germany, vs. Dick Norman, Belgium.

Court 13

PD Jana Novotna (4), Czech Republic, vs. Nicole Bradtke, Australia.

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